NSA Intercepts Computer Deliveries and Hijacks Windows Error Messages

by Michael Yoakum
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – German magazine Der Speigel revealed more information about the NSA’s hacking unit Sunday, reporting that that the intelligence agency intercepts computer deliveries, exploits hardware vulnerabilities, and hijacks Microsoft’s internal reporting system to spy on their targets. The report is based on internal NSA documents that claimed the agency’s mission was “Getting the ungettable.”

The NSA, headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland, has come under fire in the past year for increasingly invasive spying systems. (Photo courtesy of CNET)

Der Speigal’s reports relate to the select group of hackers within the NSA’s Tailor Access Operations (TAO) division, which specialize in stealing data from the tough targets. The report claims that the TAO has some high-tech gadgets for gathering from tough targets, including computer monitor cables that record everything typed on the computer and a USB drive with a radio transmitter that broadcasts data over airwaves.

Beyond their gadgets, the report says that the TAO has exploited weaknesses in the architecture of the Internet to deliver malicious software to specific computers. Their techniques even take advantage of vulnerabilities in software created by some of the leading tech firms, including Cisco Systems and Dell.

The report added that one of the most effective techniques involved intercepting computer deliveries and taking them to workshops to install spyware before delivering them to a target. The NSA has taken to calling this technique “interdiction” and regularly involves support from the FBI or CIA.

One of the most startling revelations came in regards to the TAO’s ability to spy on Microsoft crash reports that come up when a game or document crashes on the Windows operating system. The reports are designed to allow Microsoft engineers work on fixing Windows errors, but Der Speigel reports that the NSA is sifting through these reports to help break in to computers running the operating system.

The report further noted that the NSA has succeeded in tapping the massive underwater fiber optics bundles used to connect the global data infrastructure. In particular, a cable bundle connecting Western Europe with North Africa and the Middle East (known as “SEA-ME-WE-4”) has been tapped.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – Report: NSA Intercepts Computer Deliveries – 29 December 2013

CBS News – Report: NSA intercepts computer deliveries – 29 December 2013

CNET – NSA reportedly planted spyware on electronics equipment – 29 December 2013

Forbes – Report: NSA Intercepting Laptops Ordered Online, Installing Spyware – 29 December 2013

The Washington Post – Report: NSA intercepts computer deliveries – 29 December 2013

Author: Michael Yoakum

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